October 1, 2020 - by Jason Lisk
Regular Thursday Night Football has been sneaking up on us now for 9 seasons (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)
The NFL switched to a schedule with weekly Thursday night games in 2012, providing 17 or more of them each year. These Thursday games allow fewer rest days than usual for the two participants.
One popular theory that pops up from time to time is that the home team has an advantage in a week where travel comes after a shorter practice and rest period. For example:
Let’s take a look at home team records straight up and against the spread on Thursdays, and see if we can dig up any strong evidence to support or refute this claim.
Here is a yearly summary of the records for all home teams in Thursday games, as both favorites and underdogs, excluding Week 1.
(Since the theory is that teams are at a disadvantage on a short week, Week 1 shouldn’t apply as teams have more time to prepare starters.)
The data does include all Thanskgiving Day games, in addition to other Thursday Night Football games.
|YEAR||SU W||SU L||SU T||SU PCT||ATS W||ATS L||ATS T||ATS PCT|
Looking at the table above, there is no strong evidence that home teams have exceeded betting market expectations in Thursday games, or anything indicating they are likely to do so in the future. In total:
In fact, after the USA Today article theorizing about the disadvantage of Thursday road teams, home teams promptly went four straight years with a losing overall spread record for the 2012 to 2015.
Then, from 2016 to 2018, Thursday home teams suddenly did very well against the spread. That streak seems to have prompted the Action Network article from December of 2018 talking about the advantage that home favorites had.
The piece even noted that the “last 13 home favorites on Thursday Night Football, dating back to October of last season, are 13-0 straight up and 11-1-1 against the spread, covering the number by 9.8 PPG over that span.”
What happened next? The Chiefs, a home favorite, lost at home to the Chargers in a key AFC West matchup in the Thursday night finale for 2018.
Including that game, Thursday home teams are 8-11 ATS since the Action Network piece was written, and Thursday home favorites (a main focus of the piece) have gone 7-5 straight up and a woeful 3-9 ATS.
With such a small number of games to analyze (and certain Thursday night games inevitably sticking out in the public’s mind, since it is a prime-time “island game” viewing spot), we’re seeing exactly the type of stuff here that demonstrates how dangerous it is to be confident about a short term trend.
As you would expect in such small samples, there has been fluctuation in the annual performance of Thursday home teams since these games became a weekly thing in 2012. String a couple winning or losing years together and it is tempting to think you have a trustworthy betting angle to rely on, but in many cases it just ends up being a mirage of randomness.
At the very least, it helps to apply a bit of an eye test: How likely is it that a longer-term sustainable edge in the betting markets could really be this simple? Probably not very.
Overall, since the league went to near-weekly Thursday games, the results for home teams are right in line with what you would expect across other NFL games.
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